Making a Will in Tennessee

How to make a will in Tennessee and what can happen if you don't.

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What Can I Do With a Tennessee will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

In Tennessee, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Tennessee's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in Tennessee?

No. You can make your own will in Tennessee, using Nolo's do-it-yourself will software or online will programs. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.

What Are the Requirements for Signing a Will in Tennessee?

To finalize your will in Tennessee:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will in front of you and each other. Tennessee Code Ann. § 32-1-104.

It's best to have a "disinterested" person who has nothing to inherit from you sign your will as a witness than an "interested" person since an interested person can lose the gift you left to him or her in your will if acting as your witness. Tennessee Code Ann. § 32-1-103.

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Tennessee, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, Tennessee allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will.

Should I Use My Will to Name an Executor?

Yes. In Tennessee, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's will software and online will produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In Tennessee, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, cancelling, obliterating, or destroying all or part of your will
  • making another will that says it revokes all or part of the old will or that has contradictory terms to the old will, or
  • making another document that says it revokes the old while following the same formalities you used to make your original will. Tennessee Code Ann. § 32-1-201.

If you marry someone after you make your will and have a child, your will is automatically revoked. Tennessee Code Ann. § 32-1-201. In this situation, you would have to make another will to avoid Tennessee's intestacy law.

If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), Tennessee law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will or you happen to remarry your spouse. Tennessee Code Ann. § 32-1-202. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it’s best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Where Can I Find Tennessee’s Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Tennessee’s laws about making wills here: Tennessee Code Annotated Title 32 Wills Chapter 1 Execution of Wills.

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